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Sermon August 19, 2018

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1362

August 19, 2018 Exodus 20:1-17

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


The Ten Commandments”



  • The Ten Commandments in the Modern World


We have thus far covered three passages of Scripture in our ten part series, 2 Cor. 5:17 where we learn that we are new creations in Christ, John 3.3 where we are told we must be born again to see the kingdom of God, and John 3:16 which expresses the gospel message in one verse. Not unlike John 3:16, the Ten Commandments often get over looked because they have gotten so much attention, both positive and negative attention in our society and culture. In recent decades we have seen the attack on any public displays of the Ten Commandments. In the general behavior of society we see commands broken every day. I remember from somewhere that the Sabbath Commandment may be the most broken by believers. The Ten Commandments still, and will always, hold a powerful position in the Judeo-Christian faith. We have not grown or matured or advanced beyond their influence and wisdom.

Ten Commandments stand at the core of Israel’s life under God’s care and direction. All laws and rules and directives are based in these ten. The Ten Commandments are intended to produce a people who no longer are enslaved by injustice nor to enslave others. The Ten Commandments are not a one time historical contextual antiquated offering, but an ongoing living memory for continued life in the community of faith, Jewish and Christian. The Ten Commandments affirm three life giving truths: 1. There is one God and only this God is to be worshiped and served. 2. The community of faith is set by boundaries that offer life without exploitation, abuse, or greed. 3. The rhythm of life includes the recognition that rest is vital to a people who honor God and neighbor. The Ten Commandments are a counter claim to the modern claims that we need no rules outside of ourselves. The Ten Commandments are a defense against the nonsense that we can claim our own identities by how we feel about ourselves.

Whereas the Ten Commandments once helped to shape our nation, now they are viewed as an enemy by the forces that seek power. Perhaps we have had a bit of a break from the attack on religious freedom in our current political climate, but the world is relentless to attack truth and especially biblical Truth. We may never get back to our memory of a nation guided and formed by the Judeo-Christian themes and influences like that which we have in the Ten Commandments, but we are still the church and we are still here to carry on these words of love and hope.

One of the main misconceptions about God’s Commands and rules and Word, is that they are here to punish and hold us back from being all we can be. The opposite is, of course, the truth. These commands were not given out of an intention to strip the world of fun and enjoyment, but were directed from love to bring life and joy and peace. The world has always needed these Commands since the first bite of the forbidden fruit. Without the Ten Commandments we do not know right from wrong, we do not know hope, and we do not know the love of God. While the commands are directed to God’s people, they are exactly what the world needs to keep a civilized community and a peaceful world. Breaking the commands destroys the world and destroys people. It is, in simple terms, sin. Breaking the Commands is falling short of the glory of God. You’ve probably seen or heard of the show “Breaking Bad”, well this is Breaking Commandment – and it’s bad.

There is an interesting text on the breaking of Commandments that show how it affects the environment. Hosea 4:1-3 says,


Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.


These are some of the reasons why the world and the earth needs the Ten Commandments, to protect people, to protect the environment, and to keep a good relationship with the Lord.



  • Loving God


20:1And God spoke all these words, saying,

2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3“You shall have no other gods before me.

4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7“You shall not take (carry?) the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.



Let’s look briefly at the Ten Commandments divided into three sections. The first three Commandments deal with our relationship with God. These would correspond with Jesus’ statement that we are love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

1) No other God. No idolatry. No allegiances before our allegiance with God. We worship only this God.

2) No images of God. This ties in deeply to the first Commandment. No worshiping false gods, idols made of wood or stone or idols made in our imaginations. No worship of money or fame or American Idol contest winners. We bow down to only One God and serve Him alone.

3) Protect the Lord’s name. I heard an interesting comment on this verse, the third commandment, from Dennis Prager. Prager is a Jewish commentator on the radio on all kinds of life and faith issues from a Jewish and traditional American perspective. He said of this verse that there is some question as to whether the Hebrews should be translated “take the name of the Lord” or “carry the name of the Lord”. Ancient languages can have a bit of flexibility when coming into the English. English is more precise and so options often exist for translations. But think about the notion of taking the Lord’s name in vain and we have basically reduced that to saying the name in any way that is demeaning or disrespectful. People today say “Oh, my God,” as a sign of surprise or amazement. It most often means to invoke of use God’s name in a vain way, without respect for the name.

To “carry” the Lord’s name in vain might mean to claim to be a Christian, or in Prager’s case a Jew, and yet show by our actions that we have little to no concern for the reputation or importance of the name of the Lord. Is it more damaging to say flippantly, “Oh, my God,” or to claim (carry) the name of God yet deny major portions of Scripture with regard for the sanctity of life or sexual identity or religious liberty? I think both are damaging to the one taking or carrying the name of the Lord in vain, so I would suggest as God commands, don’t do it!



  • Loving Neighbor



12“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13“You shall not murder.

14“You shall not commit adultery.

15“You shall not steal.

16“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”


The final six Commandments deal with our love for neighbor, summed up nicely by Jesus when He spoke of the second greatest command, we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. These commands teach us how to live with one another. They provide laws that govern a peaceful and loving society. They promote fidelity and safety and contentment in society, and honor within the family. The Commandments ask us to trust that God knows better than anyone how to live. The Commandments remind us that there is another way to conduct our lives rather than the ways the world seeks to direct. But what has happened over the years and within our own society is a steady breakdown of keeping Commandment. Attacks on Judeo-Christian values have brought about a lack of honor for parents, what is almost a celebration of adultery (certainly a celebration of many sexual sins), stealing is still a crime unless you count stealing religious liberties from people who want to run their businesses by Christian values.

But it is not just society and the world that refuses to keep Commandments, for many Christians treat other people with contempt and gossip about others and covet their possessions. Interesting to note that Colossians 3:5 calls coveting idolatry, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” One of the things a verse like this may indicate is that the Bible is largely a commentary on the Ten Commandments. Everything Paul says to get rid of could be found in one or more of the Ten Commandments. What this verse may also indicate is that any sin against another person is also a sin against God. Covetousness equals indolatry. The tenth Commandment is like the first three, a sin against God and His name.

Psalm 51:3-4 says it this way,

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

The Ten Commandments seek to protect us from sinning against God whether that sin is a direct offense to God or an offense against another person or even an offense against a day of rest.



  • Loving the Sabbath


8“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


I saw a YouTube video about a family that moved from the U.S. to Switzerland and the mother was noting 20 things different between the countries. One particularly related to this Commandment was that everything closed down on Sunday. Weekdays everything closes around 6:30-7:30pm, but on Sunday’s nothing is open. No restaurants, no stores, nothing. Many of you remember those days here when Sunday shut down. When I was in college the town proper shut down on Wednesday afternoons at 1pm and all day each Sunday. There are still those who give testimony to the Sabbath, Chic-fil-A and Hobby Lobby come to mind.

There is one group that should certainly give testimony to Sabbath and that is us. I’m not here to tell anyone how they should remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, but I do believe we should lead the way in setting this day apart from all the others. (Yes, I know that some believers have to work on the Sabbath. Make another day your Sabbath rest!)

In the Exodus collection of the Ten Commandments, Sabbath is a day to cease from work, to rest, to be refreshed. There are numerous books written to celebrate and exalt the Sabbath and teach us how to rest and honor this day. Certainly there are ways to go to extremes on the Sabbath, one the one hand, we might restrict so much that we can no longer call the Sabbath a joy, on the other hand, we do things that might dishonor the intent of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is not just a good suggestion to help us rest, but it is what the Lord created for the sake of ceasing all work. It is what the Lord created to protect workers, farm animals, and guests. Let me encourage us to keep the Sabbath. There are no concrete rules for everyone. What might be restful to one person could be tiresome to another. Jesus had a lot to say about the Sabbath, but what He demonstrated time and time again was that the Sabbath we made for us, not us for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a protection against the world that believes we must work seven days a week. The Sabbath could also become a witness to the love of God by Christians taking a rest from their labors. It does indeed show that we trust God to keep everything going without our constant work.

There was once a Fed Ex commercial with several men sitting in front of a closed barber shop on a bench and a Fed Ex truck pulls up across the street and delivers a package. One of the men said, “ didn’t know Fed Ex delivered on Sunday.” Then the voice over comes up and proclaims, “Fed Ex delivers on Sunday because the world works seven days a week.” We are here honoring this command as a witness against the false gospel that the world works seven days a week.



  • The Steadfast Love of God


6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.


I want to say a brief word about the purpose of the Ten Commandments and the purpose behind keeping them. Verse 6 in Exodus 20 reveals the steadfast love of God. Once again we see the love of God expressed so deeply in the Old Testament. The Commandments are given out of God steadfast love and that love continues to those who love God and keep God’s Commands. This is one way we demonstrate our love for God, in keeping His Commands. The commandments remind us that we live before God, that we live before a loving God. The Commandments show us that life and the life that loves has a certain order and structure given shape by God’s Commandments.

The Ten Commandments speak to concerns for how we relate to God and neighbor, and even to the day set aside for rest. All of these Commandments relate to one another. To love neighbor is to love God and to love God is to attend properly to our neighbors. When we practice and live by the Commands to honor parents and don’t murder anyone, we honor the One who gave us these Commands. When we faithfully worship God and love Him with all we are, it is a natural step toward loving our neighbors whom God has created. The Commandments are our guide to life. Yes, God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ and in that grace of God we are continually guided by the Ten Commandments so that we may not sin against God.

If the Ten Commandments are to survive in our society and culture, perhaps the best strategy for getting them back in their proper place is to become the community that sets itself apart by abiding in them. The best witness is that people say about us: “they don’t just talk about them, they live them!” The best witness we can give the world is to continue to renew our awareness that we live before God each day, called to be God’s people who are guided by Ten Commandments.


In Romans 12 the apostle Paul writes about how we should live before God. I like the way Peterson phrases it in The Message: “So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message).


The Ten Commandments bring the best out of us when we place our lives before God, embracing what God gives, resisting the cultural tides that seek to drag us under the water. God has given us Ten Commandments that we might live before God and neighbor in love. May we know and cherish these laws, these gifts of God. Amen.